Approximately 15 out of 100 couples will consult a doctor due to their inability to conceive.
This condition is labeled as infertility. Science defines infertility as the absence of pregnancy after regular sexual intercourse for a period of one year. Regular sexual activity is further outlined as penetrative sex between two people of opposite gender occurring at least three times a week.
Many theories have been put forward about this seemingly worldwide epidemic of infertility. I say “epidemic” because according to statistics, infertility affects 15% of all couples worldwide, or about 80 million couples.
Why infertility is on the rise
The most popular (or, rather, unpopular) reason for this heightened surge of childless relationships are chemicals. Plastic is to blame. Plastic has a component called Bisphenol A or BPA. When plastic is exposed to high temperatures, BPA is released causing estrogen-like effects on the human body.
Estrogen is one of the hormones responsible for reproduction. Any excess estrogen will cause several problems for women, from irregular menstruation to infertility to breast and uterine cancer.
Others believe that infertility is due to lifestyle. Excessive exercise, poor sleeping habits, smoking, and alcohol intake are possible culprits. Another speculation is the late onset of child-bearing in career-driven women.
Whichever the cause, men and women seek solutions to the problem.
Step 1: Fertility tablets
Visiting a doctor is the first step to solving the problem. When you do, it would be good to be armed with a record of at least 6 months of your monthly menstrual cycle. Monitoring and jotting down your daily body temperature for 3 to 6 months is also helpful.
On your first visit, expect to undergo a Pap smear and vaginal ultrasound and for your partner’s sperm to be collected for a sperm count. Make sure you have had no sexual intercourse for the past two days to get an accurate test result.
After the results are evaluated, be prepared for a step-by-step, “trial-and-error” treatment course. The treatment is tailor-made for each couple. The physician goes through several methods to find out which will work.
The first step usually involves taking oral fertility tablets every day for 5 days, usually on the second to sixth day of your menstruation. This method is usually employed from 6 to 12 months until you become pregnant. A bit of a warning though: fertility tablets give you a 25% chance of conceiving twins.
Read: Infertility may cause mental disorders in women
Step 2: Injectible fertility medications
If tablets don’t work, you’ll proceed to injectable fertility medications with frequent, almost daily ultrasound monitoring to determine when the egg is large enough to rupture. You are then injected with another drug to induce ovulation.
From the time of injection, you will be given from 12 to 24 hours for the egg and the sperm to meet. I suggest dragging your husband away from work and keeping him home to ensure that both of you can have sex within the given time period.
This technique may be used for 3 to 6 months or until your funds run out. A year of injectables and ultrasounds may cause a dent in your bank account.
Read: Male infertility: boxers vs. briefs stirs up hot debate
Step 3: In vitro fertilization
If you haven’t gotten pregnant after a year of trying with the initial drugs and you still want to have a baby, in vitro fertilization or IVF is your next bet.
Be prepared to take out a loan or get your parents to give you your inheritance early. Here in the Philippines, IVF costs anywhere between P500,000 to P2 million, depending on the fertility center and popularity of the specialist. The success rate of IVF here is 30%.
Some of my patients have said that the treatment costs P300,000 in Taiwan, with a “take-home baby” rate of 40%. While that may sound promising, you must factor in your lost income because you’ll need to spend almost 6 months away from work—not to mention springing for your board and lodging and dealing with the language barrier. However, I have met a few satisfied couples who have been blessed with not one but two pregnancies from a center in Taipei.
The procedure involves harvesting your egg and your partner’s sperm and growing it in a petri dish. The union may produce 1 to 8 to 12 viable embryos. (Remember OctoMom?) You may then choose the number of embryos you want implanted into you and the gender of your baby. The unused embryos are kept in a freezer till you want to get pregnant again.
Once implanted, you will be given extra hormones and put on complete bed rest to allow the baby or babies to attach to the uterine lining. Hopefully, all will survive till term. Many miscarry before the fifth month.
Finally, after all is said and done, it is uplifting to find out that 60% of couples get pregnant after they have given up trying. Many of them conceive with no help from science.
Read: Five cups of coffee a day shown to reduce IVF success
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Dr. Diana Sarmiento is a mother of three, part-time doctor, and a full-time wife and mother. The topics closest to her heart are women’s health, parenting, and any new information that she can get her hands on. Read more on her personal blog, Filipina M.D.